Conn. fire dept. earns highest ISO rating

New Haven is one of 178 departments nationwide classified Class 1, joining 2 other state departments

By Esteban L. Hernandez
The New Haven Register

NEW HAVEN, Conn.  The fire department joined an elite class of public safety services after receiving the top insurance rating for fire agencies, an accomplishment Acting Fire Chief Ralph Black said is the result of a department-wide efforts.

Black joined Mayor Toni Harp, Chief Administrative Officer Michael Carter, City Controller Daryl Jones, City Engineer Giovanni Zinn and Board of Fire Commissioners Vice Chairman William Celentano Tuesday at fire department headquarters on Grand Avenue to announce that the New Haven Fire Department is now a Class 1 Insurance Service Office department.

“This started long before I came back,” Black said. “It’s a we thing, not a me thing.”

Black also thanked former Chief Allyn Wright and current Fire Operations Chief Matthew Marcarelli.

“We are not a perfect department, by any means, but this says that we are right up there with the very best,” Black said.

ISO is an independent company servicing fire departments with risk assessment by collecting information on municipal fire-suppression efforts to formulate a classifying number, Black said. Class 1 is the highest possible rating, while Class 10 is the lowest.

The announcement came during a busy day. Firefighters battled a two-alarm fire Tuesday that displaced 10 apartment units and injured a firefighter. A fire pumper on scene during Tuesday’s press conference even had to leave to respond to a fire alarm as Jones spoke.

Fire union President Frank Ricci propped up two posters across the street from Fire Headquarters that outlined some of the union’s main issues with Black’s management. Ricci has been vocal about his disapproval of Black and on Tuesday, he spoke to media after the main press conference concluded.

“Today is a great day for New Haven,” Ricci said, commending the ISO achievement.

However, he said it felt “suspect” that the city waited until June to announce the rating upgrade, though they found out in January that it would be increased.

“The purpose of this press conference today is to build up a failed, interim fire chief who betrayed the public trust,” Ricci said.

Carter said during the press conference that some of the department’s facilities are in need of upgrades. Zinn provided details of the forthcoming upgrades, adding that the city has made $500,000 worth of improvements in the current fiscal year.

Ricci’s posters included photographs of a sink and wiring at department firehouse’s that appear broken. Ricci said the union seeks more communication with Black’s office, including a plan providing insight on what the department will address.

“These conditions have been brought to the chief’s attention since 2012,” Ricci said. “We understand that the city doesn’t have a lot of money and that you need to put together a plan ... but what we’re missing from this chief’s office who’s been here for five months, is where is the annual report?”

Harp said she’s excited for the ISO announcement because it places the department among the nation’s elite in fire protection services.

“Residents and property owners across New Haven have reason to join me with gratitude and appreciation for the work of New Haven firefighters and members of my administration who worked so hard to the city to attain this class 1 rating,” Harp said.

Better fire protection means better insurance rates for city property owners, Harp said.

Jones also called the new rating exciting, because it makes an impact on the city’s insurance and finances. During the 2015 fiscal year, $8.7 million was spent on overtime costs across its public safety departments; Jones is estimating this fiscal year will end up about $3.3 million in overtime costs. The city is spending significantly less per week in overtime costs, Jones said.

“It saves, because it makes a huge impact on the city’s cost and how we operate as a city,” Jones said.

New Haven is one of 178 departments nationwide classified Class 1, of 48,632 departments belonging to the ISO ratings. The department’s rating was upgraded from Class 2 to Class 1. Connecticut has 234 ISO rated fire departments, with only two others classified as Class 1.

Copyright 2016 the New Haven Register

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